Southern Baptists and the Politics of Stem Cells
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Fri Mar 17, 2006 at 10:12:50 AM EST
Few knew that Southern Baptists were weighing in against stem cell research when the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message (BF&M) was adopted.  Fewer still realized that millions of Baptist couples using the pill to plan their families could be condemned by their church for committing infanticide.
Debates in congress have revealed a deep rift among some of the most conservative pro-life members of congress over the value of stem cell research.  Such research could lead to treatments for Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, strokes and burns.  Many see no harm in permitting stem cell researchers to use "frozen embryo's" destined to be discarded by clinics after performing "in vitro fertilizations" for childless couples.

Months before debate began in congress, Richard Land, head of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission wrote President Bush and asked him "to protect every human life, including the lives of cryogenically preserved human embryos."  His letter reflects an understanding of personhood added to Articles XV and XVIII of the 2000 BF&M that is derived more from papal pronouncements than from the Bible.

The Bible understands persons to be created by a union of flesh and spirit:   "The Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life: and man became a living being." (Gen. 2:7 NASB)  This view prevailed in the church for more than 1800 years and remains the belief held by most Protestants and Jews.  In 2000, however, Southern Baptists adopted an "instrument of accountability" that espouses the Roman Catholic dogma that personhood begins when a human ovum is fertilized.

If scientists extracting stem cells from eight-cell blastulae deserve to be likened to "Nazi's" and condemned for "technological cannibalism," then every Baptist couple who has used birth control pills for family planning should be condemned for infanticide.  Birth control pills do not always prevent fertilization of the human ovum.  Sometimes they prevent fertilized human ova from implanting in a uterus where conception can be completed and embryos have the possibility of growing to become living, breathing, human beings.  The fertilized ova that are destroyed in this common and effective form of contraception are frequently more fully developed than the test tube embryos being discarded by fertility clinics.  Previously, the Roman Catholic church stood nearly alone against such contraception.

The efforts of SBC leaders to uphold their papal views of the sanctity of life is either misguided or hypocritical.  If the current leaders of the SBC are informed about the facts of reproduction and contraception, it is cowardly for them to maintain a code of silence within the church about sins so similar to those they scathingly and publicly denounce in the world of medical research.  If they are uninformed about the basics of contraception, what credibility do they have to speak about stem cell research?

If the new leaders of the SBC truly believe that, "Human embryos are not mere biological tissues or clusters of cells; they are the tiniest of human beings," then they need to speak just as openly, publicly and loudly against the use of birth control pills as they do against stem cell research.  Should they do so, they need to be careful that they are not so bold as to define sin in such a way that they also condemn God.  Robert Francoeur, a Roman Catholic embryologist and theologian writes,

"If every human egg fertilized is immediately a `fetus', `baby' and `person', then God and nature play a mean trick on us. Scientists estimate that in the five-six days following union of egg and sperm, between one-third and one-half of all `persons' spontaneously degenerate and are reabsorbed or expelled. In the second week, 42 percent of the implanted `persons' abort. In the fetal period one-third of the remaining fetuses spontaneously miscarry. Thus out of every 1000 `persons' `conceived', only 120 to 160 survive to be reborn!"  (Christian Ethics Today, April 2000, p. 26.)

God declared all his creative work to be "very good." (Gen. 1:31)  Would He do that if it was wasteful of human life and potential?

One in four pregnancies ends in spontaneous rejection. Are women going to be punished because their own bodies reject 'bad' conceptions? And, a developing fetus is a potential human being, just like a building under construction is potentially a home, shop, business, etc. Both are incomplete, and incompatible with their eventual use until they are complete. The Biblical take on this sees a fetus as part of its mother, only becoming a person when it is born. Calling a zygote a 'person' is- to me, anyway, like calling some scraped dirt with surveyor's stakes a house. Until it is complete and capable of being inhabited, it isn't a house, it's a construction site.

Yes, perhaps this sounds a little harsh, but I sincerely believe that calling a clump of cells a 'person' is really stretching things. Until it can survive outside the womb, it's a potential person.

by Lorie Johnson on Fri Mar 17, 2006 at 10:47:02 AM EST

Calling a zygote a 'person' is- to me, anyway, like calling some scraped dirt with surveyor's stakes a house.

Bill Neaves, a stem cell activist in Missouri had an even better analogy: Is an acorn the equivalent of an oak tree?

Another consideration: one embryo can split into two or can merge with another before individualism is assured. Furthermore, the embtyo contains what will become the placenta, yet no religion I know of regrads that to be the equivalent of a human being.

Well done Lorie.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Mar 19, 2006 at 05:08:10 PM EST

As a Catholic who has long been involved in embryonic stem cell advocacy, I believe that there exists a strong presumption that Jesus would have no objection to this vital research.

Here are the facts:

  1. Jesus lived His entire life on Earth as an observant Jew pursuant to Torah and the halakic tradition.

  2. Jesus never repudiated the Halakic concept of healing lives in danger of death, known as Picuach nefish.

  3. If anything, Jesus constatly reaffirmed this concept by performing healing miracles on the Sabbath.

  4. All three branches of contemporary Judaism, in studying the same Torah Jesus lived by, concluded it would be a sin not to do this research.

  5. So why Jesus oppose embryonic stem cell research? The facts would indicate otherwise.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Mar 19, 2006 at 04:49:33 PM EST

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